By Adele Cooke
Indigo got the chance to speak with Ryan Robinson Perinchief, President of the Durham People of Colour Association. Here’s the interview in full…
What does your role as President of the Durham People of Colour Association consist of?
As a new association which was created in response to a sense of alienation felt by many BME students at Durham, it’s my job to help foster a sense of community and empowerment amongst students of colour so that they might feel a little more comfortable in a social environment that was not necessarily built for them. We organise panels and discussions on race relations and advocate for those who might not otherwise be seen or heard at Durham University.
People of colour must make a personal effort to research and celebrate their own stories and heroes, with no apologies.
Have you found Durham to be a particularly receptive place to raise awareness about issues pertaining to people of colour?
Indeed, there is a small segment of the student body that is open to learning about the issues that people of colour are experiencing both globally and here in Durham, as evidenced by the number of people that attend our various forums and panels throughout the year. However, I would say that, as with anywhere else, the majority of people either i) do not care because it doesn’t affect them, or ii) care, but not deeply enough to put themselves in the uncomfortable position of confronting and altering their own behaviour. Nevertheless, we were very satisfied with the results of our first campaign, ‘Racism: #RecogniseAndResist’ which sought to raise awareness about the ridiculous number of incidents of outright racial discrimination that have occurred here at Durham.
We receive multiple cases of racially-motivated harassment on a monthly basis from both students and the local community, for which there is little accountability or closure. We’ve heard stories of students of harassment and discomfort by students, jeers of “the N-word” by local adults and children out and about in the town, and even inappropriate remarks by lecturers during class. Many of these instances are not even considered “cases” per say – they are just a part of everyday life for people of colour. It is expected that any talk of race will make most people uncomfortable, but it is something that we must do if we are truly serious about making Durham a better place for all students.
How do you think BLINK will increase the engagement of people of colour within Durham’s media scene?
BLINK was started as a response to the perceived marginalisation of people of colour – both at Durham and in the media generally. It is important for any artist or writer to have the freedom to express themselves unapologetically…to be able to write their own narratives about what matters to them and under an independent and uncensored platform. BLINK is not a newspaper – it is more akin to a cultural magazine. In this sense, it serves as a forum for people of colour to embrace their own heritages and cultures without having to worry about what other people will think.
We receive multiple cases of racially-motivated harassment on a monthly basis from both students and the local community, for which there is little accountability or closure.
According to David Lammy in a piece for the Guardian, between 2010 and 2015 one in four of all Cambridge colleges failed to make any offers to Black British Applicants. What do you think about the lack of representation at Cambridge and what can we do to increase the representation of people of colour in the future at collegiate universities?
The issue of a lack of representation is no surprise to people of colour, whether at Cambridge or elsewhere, really. Durham University’s very own Professor Vikki Boliver from the School of Applied Social Sciences has authored numerous publications which demonstrate that students “from black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds were shown to be significantly less likely than white applicants to be offered places at Russell Group universities even when they had achieved the same exam grades at A-level”, and furthermore, that this issue extends beyond highly selective universities and has not equalised over time. Not to mention, the possible causes of this underrepresentation go beyond mere barriers to entry and indeed include biases in the admissions process and outright discrimination. The question of what can be done to increase representation of people of colour is asked time and time again, but let’s not kid ourselves: no frivolous focus group will create fair access to British universities for ethnic minorities when it is evident that there is no genuine intention to do so.
Three percent of the British population identify as Black, yet only one point five percent of all offers from Oxford and Cambridge awarded to A-level students went to black British candidates. David Lammy argues this is a form of “social apartheid”. Do you agree with this statement?
Oxford’s very own African and Caribbean Society are more qualified to speak to this issue and have already stated that “Oxford is a microcosm of the deep structural issues embedded in the British educational system.” If we are defining social apartheid as a situation where persons are segregated based on their economic status or race, then undoubtedly this can be applied to institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Durham which are elite by nature. But they are only the continuation of a legacy of longstanding issues of race and class which Britain has yet to come to grips with as a whole. Simply put, an indictment of Oxford – supposedly the pinnacle of British academia – is an incitement on our society as a whole – “The problem does not start at Oxford, our efforts to address it cannot stop at Oxford.”
Our curriculums are Eurocentric, our films are Eurocentric and our world order is Eurocentric.
How would you respond to Morgan Freeman and Stacey Dash who say that “there should not be a Black History Month”, it is “unnecessary” and “ridiculous”?
Both Morgan Freeman and Stacey Dash are actors-turned political pundits whose opinions on racial issues have been overblown by the mainstream media in order to agitate and mock the wider black community – much like how I am having to respond to this question now. A simple google search on Stacey Dash, former Fox News commentator, would reveal that her opinions on matters regarding race mean very little to the black community, who have generally rejected her under the claim that she is anti-black herself. And while Morgan Freeman is entitled to his views, his speciality is acting: he is no more qualified to speak for black people than Taylor Swift is to speak on behalf of whites. Thus, he can offer only his perspective just as I offer mine.
The simple fact is that were it not for a Black History Month, Black history would likely not be talked about at all. Our curriculums are Eurocentric, our films are Eurocentric and our world order is Eurocentric. Black History Month provides a small window into the contributions of the black community to the world throughout history, and as long as we as black people are marginalised in the history books and in real-time, Black History Month shall remain as a reminder to us and to everyone else that we might actually be worth remembering.
Do you think the Euro-American narrative is removing the Blackness from Black History Month as Monday night’s Blanel questioned?
I think Black History Month is definitely something that can be easily distorted if it is not carefully preserved. For example, it was originally started as “Negro History Week” in the United States and had a particular emphasis on significant events in the African Diaspora. This makes sense because, over the past four hundred years, many descendants of Africa have been deliberately and strategically alienated from their cultures, languages, histories and even names due to the legacies of slavery and colonization – Negro History Week was an attempt to reconnect with those things in some way after emancipation. However, what we have seen recently in the UK are some attempts to distort that: for example, last year’s Black History Month included celebrations of Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan, who would certainly not be described as black in the United States.
Furthermore, many of the black figures that have been recognised during Black History Month include people who have made Western civilisation better in some way – inventors, the first person to do this and that, people who have contributed to the advancement of a civilisation that never liked them in the first place. Whilst these people should certainly be remembered for their personal successes, we rarely ever hear appreciation for the black revolutionaries who were seen as actual leaders in their own communities. I believe this intentional, not only to make Black History More palatable to the whites and non-black people of colour, but also as a means to portray the true black leaders of the past as unworthy of reverence for being too radical or too threatening to the oppressive powers of their time. This is why, irrespective of Black History Month, people of colour must make a personal effort to research and celebrate their own stories and heroes, with no apologies.
Graphic: Durham People of Colour Association